Back Print

Comment: Decorah's Main Street Iowa application could profit from two more years of work

Posted: Mon, Aug 12, 2019 1:02 PM

The Iowa Department of Economic Development will announce Wednesday whether Decorah has earned "Main Street Iowa" status.  The odds are not in Decorah's favor, since there is just one opening and three applications.

The Main Street Iowa program in Decorah has drawn opposition from the Decorah Area Chamber of Commerce Board, the Winneshiek County Development Board and the Winneshiek County Board of supervisors, as well as from several downtown Decorah business owners.

The Main Street Iowa program has been created to help communities "develop a public-private effort to revitalize their historic commercial (downtown) districts."  Local supporters next time need to do a more accurate inventory of which buildings in the district are empty.

Local officials say the inventory is a "snapshot" in time and that, under the Iowa Department of Economic Development rules, the application lists all empty buildings as of one particular day of the year.  That standard, however, forces communities to list as "empty" buildings which are under construction or are somehow affected by construction plans.

Decorah's application, if granted, would apply "Main Street Iowa" status not just to Water Street buildings, but to buildings on College Drive as well—basically to the entire C-3 downtown zoning district and C-2 West Side zoning district that makes up the current SSMID district.  There are 159 total buildings in that area.  Eight were listed as totally vacant in Decorah's application, which represents five percent of all buildings.  313 College Drive (the former V&V Insurance office); 115 West Water Street (the former Bargain Outlet) and 121 West Water Street (the former Happiness Is) are legitimately empty at this time--1.8 percent of all the 159 buildings.

But the application also listed 211 College Drive (the former 6-Day Discount Furniture), which is being remodeled for new owners; 300 College Drive (the former Roscoe's), which has changed ownership and has been granted a new liquor license; 122 East Water Street (next to West Music), which is being remodeled for new owners; 301 West Water Street (the former LuLu & BB's Pet Market), which is being remodeled for new owners; and 219 West Water Streeet (Alliant Energy offices), which will be affected by Alliant's plans for a new facility on Short Street, but is currently not empty..

The fact that these properties have owners who are investing their money to remodel their buildings ought to be seen as a sign of confidence in downtown Decorah, but they're labeled as "empty" because of the classifications of the Iowa Department of Economic Development.

This is just one example of the questions raised by Decorah's Main Street Iowa application--and the reason having another two years to answer these questions before applying again won't be the worst thing for Decorah.